It’s been a while since Communities appeared to replace old-school enterprise collaboration tools, thereby eliminating the hassle of toggling between apps, entering data and syncing data between systems, to say the least. Since then, they have come a long way to eventually morph into an eye-catching, full-fledged engagement solution.


What are Salesforce Communities all about?


Salesforce Community Cloud allows businesses to build multiple customized online communities within their Salesforce orgs based on their specific business needs and goals, and thereby enable smooth interaction and collaboration across the entire enterprise. A knowledge portal, a forum, a help central – whatever you call it, an online community opens up unlimited opportunities to connect your customers, partners and employees to your business processes, information from your Salesforce database and experts in a whole new way as well as provide everyone critical to your business with the best experience ever.


The possibilities Community Cloud offers are infinite. For one, through creating branded customer communities and connecting them to their business data, companies enable customers to find the right solution to customer-service issues single-handedly due to quick access to their knowledge base, articles and Q&A sections. What’s more, customer communities empower their users to deliver peer-to-peer support while collaborating with each other via Chatter, thereby creating the most rewarding self-service experience they’ve ever had.


Internal employee communities, in their turn, empower employees with the option to interact with pros from across the enterprise, collaborate on projects, sales opportunities and marketing campaigns, share best practices and knowledge, come up with new ideas and solutions, exchange files and post records in the feed in real time, which will unfailingly boost employee onboarding, engagement and productivity within the company.


The same goes for partner communities that are intended to ensure fast and effective partner onboarding through providing integrated space for channel partners, resellers and dealers where you can guide them through products and quoting, provide real-time multilingual support, share records and data, leads and accounts, track channel stats, in other words, align with your partners and get a 360-degree view of their performance– all in one place. Growing your partner community is a sure-fire way to drive channel sales.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of what Salesforce Community Cloud can do for you – with Community Cloud nothing is impossible. Yet, even if the decision about whether to jump into Community Cloud seems to be straightforward, there are still a couple of things you’ve got to consider before getting started with Salesforce Community Cloud implementation.


What to opt for: an off-the-shelf community template or a custom-built community?


With a variety of out-of-the-box lightning options Salesforce delivers to its customers, like Partner Central or Customer Service customizable templates, you won’t have a hard time launching a branded, mobile-optimized community within the shortest possible timeframe. Each template comes equipped with a rich set of unique features and components, so all you’ve got to do is consider your functionality requirements and opt for the template that will cater to your specific needs. No coding or IT staff required.


However, if you feel a strong need to move beyond the pre-packaged solutions and modify the look-and-feel of your community template, there is always an option to customize your community through editing components, adding custom theme layout, adding new pages and drag-and-drop, customizable components the Lightning Community Builder tool comes equipped with – all without coding as well. Yet, there is one caveat: there is a limit to how far you can go with customization.


Alternatively, you can always go the extra mile and create a fully customized community to meet your specific business needs through Salesforce Tabs + Visualforce, which allows for limitless customization of the community experience. On the downside, this may require advanced developer skills.


Which option to go for fully depends on your business needs and community requirements. Yet, if you have trouble foreseeing how much customization your community might require, it pays to start with an off-the-shelf community template to get off the ground quickly and with ease, incrementally adding custom functionality as your community requirements grow.


Decide on the size of your community


In advance of setting up your Salesforce community, it’s just as important to estimate the size of your community, that is to say the number of users you’re going to invite. This will enable you to calculate the number of required licenses, which is user-based, and figure out how much it’s gonna run you in the long haul.


Mapping out your licensing costs is really that important. As the time goes by and your business grows, you may want your community to scale towards your new needs, which may increase your licensing costs. For example, in case with login-based licenses you have to purchase a specific number of monthly logins, and every time an external user logs into the community, one of the logins is consumed. Due to seasonality or other factors, your login usage may increase, which will require purchasing additional logins to assign more login-based licenses. So, to get a clearer picture of what it might translate into, it’s critical that you carefully plan well in advance how many users you want to give access to, what features they might need, and envision how your business might grow or change.


Who can see what in your community


The same goes for your community content accessibility – you’ve got to decide whether you want your community content to be publicly accessible to unlicensed users, what part of it you want to be open and what content authenticated users can access. The thing is, in terms of accessibility communities are divided into authenticated (aka private, with a login required), non-authenticated (with community pages available to the public), or hybrid communities (having both publicly facing content and private elements that require a login). What objects you plan to expose as well as what level of access to objects and functionality you want to assign to your external authenticated users determines the choice of the community license type, each of which offers different options regarding available features and objects that can be exposed to users. Once you have set these requirements, you will have an easier time choosing the right license structure for your Community. To get a better understanding of what community license types allow and opt for the one that is best suited to your business needs, check out this Salesforce help document.


Member-based vs Login-based licenses


Going one step further, Salesforce offers five community license types for external users, each available either as a member-based license or a monthly login-based license. This is one more point for you to consider. Which license model will fit the bill nicely hinges on the community access frequency. As for the former, it allows external users to log into the community as many times as they want, which makes it the right fit for members who frequently log into the community. Whereas users with a login-based license consume one login each time they access the community, which works best for users with infrequent access to the community.


If you still have a hard time choosing the right model, Salesforce gives you an option to mix member-based and login-based licenses of the same license type, thereby enabling you to optimize your license allocation further down the line based on your users’ login behavior. For instance, if you see your users with a member-based license log in just a few times per month, you can easily reassign them to a login-based license model within the same license type.


Bottom Line


The multi-tenant infrastructure of the Community Cloud is intended to transform your business into social enterprise. There is only one thing you’ve got to understand to ensure an efficient and smooth community rollout: Salesforce community implementation is a huge undertaking – it really is not a matter of two days.


As you may see, much in the community implementation depends on your specific use case, so your number one priority is to clearly establish your business requirements ahead of time. What to go with: Community Builder or Salesforce Tabs + Visualforce? How many users are you going to add to your community? What type of access and permissions do you want to give your Community users? What objects in Salesforce do you plan to expose? How often do you expect each user will log into your community? These are only a few of mission-critical questions you have to find answers to before you embark on the Salesforce Community implementation journey.